The History of Memorial Day

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” — Nathan Hale, Continental Army, (6 June 1755 - 22 September 1776).

Nathan Hale, an American soldier and spy during the American Revolutionary War, uttered these words as his last before being summoned to the gallows by enemy British troops. These words capture the patriotism of Hale and have also come to represent honor and service.

Origins of Memorial Day

Nearly 100 years after Hale spoke these words, the United States started to honor fallen soldiers on a day called Decoration Day. At this point, in the late 1860s, the Civil War had decimated a young generation of Americans; indeed, to this day, the Civil War claimed more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history.

As a result, the first national cemeteries were cropping up throughout the country to honor the fallen. Townspeople unofficially decorated these graves with flowers and prayers. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan called for a more official day of remembrance to fall on May 30 every year. Originally a day to honor those who lost their lives in the Civil War, the holiday was expanded to include all fallen soldiers during World War I.

In 1968, the government established the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. As a result, Federal employees get a three-day weekend for Memorial Day every year.

Memorial Day Traditions

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, where white pants are considered acceptable and barbecue grills light up the weekend. The holiday means so much more, though, and it also commemorated by Memorial Day parades, visits to military cemeteries, and moments of silence. The holiday has become a chance to honor the fallen and support veterans throughout the country.


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Arlington National Cemetery is a popular destination for this weekend, as more than 400,000 active duty service members are laid to rest there. On May 25, the 3d. U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) places flags at each headstone, starting at 1 P.M. This tradition has occurred for the last 60 years, and it is an incredibly moving display.

The National Memorial Day Parade also takes place in Washington D.C., where hundreds of thousands of spectators pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

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